Education

NIH says 75 grantees were removed from their jobs due to harassment complaints

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According to the National Institutes of Health, in the past three years, 75 principal researchers have been cancelled due to sexual harassment and other hostile workplace claims.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences stated that it has replaced two members due to sexual misconduct.

Before 2018, no PI was removed from NIH grants due to sexual misconduct. Before this year, the National Academy did not remove any members for this reason.

The Me Too movement and specific campaigns against sexual harassment and assault in the scientific field have prompted these organizations to take misconduct as seriously as research misconduct. But in some cases, these consequences can take years to play out.

Remove prestige

For example, NAS removed astronomer Geoff Marcy at the end of last month because he violated its Section IV. code of Conduct, “All forms of discrimination, harassment, and bullying” in professional contacts are prohibited, “especially when power differences are involved, because these actions have an adverse effect on the career of scientists and the legitimate conduct of science.” The decision follows internally. Go through the review process.

The NAS committee approved its code of conduct at the end of 2018. Marcy resigned In 2015, under public pressure, the University of California, Berkeley discovered that he had repeatedly violated its sexual harassment policy. The accusations against him involved unnecessary groping, kissing, and massaging of students for more than a decade. Massi said that he disagrees with all the investigation results against him, but “it is clear that my behavior was unwelcome by some women.”

NAS fired biologist Francisco Ayala From the University of California, Irvine, 2018, just last week. A university investigation found that multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him were credible. His accusers, including some professors and colleagues, included unnecessary touch and rubbing. One accuser said that Ayala once commented that she was so enthusiastic in a speech that he thought she would “climate.” Ayala said he regrets that “I always think that the courtesy of European gentlemen” made his colleagues “uncomfortable”.

Several survivors of sexual misconduct in the scientific community said last week that they welcomed these actions by NAS and NIH. At the same time, they emphasized the cost of the reporting process—in addition to the actual harassment they experienced—in time, energy, and emotion.

“What is really clear at this point is that overwhelming evidence and many victims are needed to come forward for these other organizations to take action,” Catherine Trey, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and one of Ayala’s accusers. Said said. “Things are so ingrained that it only takes a mountain to move these people.”

Treseder added: “I’m happy to lower this standard to the very basic level of professional etiquette we expect. I don’t think we are very close to that point. But this is a good start.”

Jade Guedes, associate professor of earth sciences at the University of California, San Diego, agrees that the university investigation—NIH and NAS still rely on their own deliberations—is too burdensome for the victims. Guedes reports to anthropologist Gary Urton Harvard University recently stripped him of his status as an emeritus professor and was barred from entering the campus because she invited her to a hotel room to “talk and explore” via email.

When the email was received, Geddes was a graduate student at Harvard University. She said that although this proposal is bad enough, it is insignificant compared to other complaints received by Harvard against Erton. However, the other victims are not so serious because they do not have a “smoking gun” in the form of e-mail.

Guedes said: “Before they fire someone, the harassment must be so severe and so common that for me it basically means that there are many other harassers who have not reached that level.”

Erton retired in 2020 when the university conducted an investigation under Article 9 of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded institutions. He said, “For many reasons, I don’t think the sanctions against me are fair or just, nor do I think they accurately reflect the evidence collected in the Article 9 procedure.”

Follow the money

In 2018, Francis Collins, President of the National Institutes of Health, Public condemnation Sexual harassment is “morally untenable” and “unacceptable.”He also announced anti-sexual harassment website It also previewed upcoming initiatives, including a centralized process for managing harassment reports.

The federal funding agency finally launched a Web portal Through it, interested parties can directly complain to NIH about funded scientists. The agency is also currently opening a hotline for such complaints.

in A meeting In the NIH Director’s Advisory Committee this month, the agency revealed that since 2018, it has received a total of 314 reports of misconduct by grantees.

Since then, approximately 163 of the resolved cases involved sexual harassment. In response to such cases, the National Institutes of Health issued investigation letters to 131 institutions after hearing the complaints. Of the 163 cases that have been resolved, 48 have been confirmed by the agency through its own procedures. In 54 of these 163 cases, PI was removed from NIH grants. In 50 of these cases, PI left the organization before the funding was cancelled.

The scientist was removed from the peer review process in 87 cases.

Between January and April 30 this year alone, there were 70 of 314 complaints. 41 out of 70 were involved in sexual harassment. 16 cases involved racial discrimination, and the number of such complaints has been increasing every year since 2018. Five of the 2021 complaints involved bullying. Some complaints involve other types of harassment, or multiple types of harassment.

Mike Lauer, deputy director of NIH’s Office of External Research, said during the meeting that he “issued three to four letters to the agency a week” in an attempt to resolve complaints.

He said that although the pandemic may disrupt some laboratory work, studies have shown that “some of our social skills have shrunk, and if not managed carefully, it may lead to more conflict and hostility in the workplace.”

The National Science Foundation began in 2018 to require funded institutions to report the results of harassment investigations against the chief or co-chief investigator, and when the PI will take administrative leave. Possible consequences include the removal of PI from the grant, but the NSF said last week that it does not track these removals like NIH.

science Report The American Association for the Advancement of Science expelled two researchers, including Ayala, last year due to the results of a harassment investigation. This is due to policy changes that allowed such actions in 2018.

NIH has Required The agency reported when PI was removed from the grant due to the results of a harassment investigation since last year.

How does the NIH complaint system work? NIH will not remove grantees from the awards on its own, but will cooperate with institutions in a variety of ways to achieve this goal.

Lauer described three process examples. He said that first, the research vice president of an institution directly contacted NIH, stating that PI violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy and conducted a quick investigation. The university sanctions violators and proposes a “management plan” to NIH, which includes removing scientists from NIH-funded activities. Lauer said there were some back and forth between the university and NIH, during which time researchers were replaced or even removed from peer review.

“In this case, things are going relatively smoothly,” Raul said.

In another case, Lauer said, “We received an anonymous complaint through our web form, which would provide us with a link to a report of sexual misconduct, which we knew nothing about. Then we contacted the agency. We asked what happened to the agency.”

The agency responded that it had approved PIs, such as not allowing scientists to supervise students alone or contact certain people. Raul continued, “But there is no problem with NIH funding – they can continue to be NIH-funded PIs. Then I Come back and say,’We don’t quite understand. A person who cannot be trusted to supervise certain people or be a consultant to graduate students in a highly vulnerable state, how can we believe that research is conducted in a safe environment and that this person can trust?”

Raul said this led to some “quite difficult conversations.” “We have many cases now, and the university says,’You know, you are right, we know where you are from. Therefore, we will remove the PI from the NIH grant, and we will let another PI take over the laboratory or take over this Kind of situation.’”

In the third example, Raul said this was the most difficult one. NIH received an anonymous report about a particular PI resigning from campus in the Title IX investigation.

“In some cases, there is a confidentiality agreement between PI and the university,” Lauer said. “So the understanding is that they leave the agency, the agency will not tell anyone what happened, they got a job [someplace else]. “

Raul said that because PI has now left the agency, the investigation has stopped and no official findings have been made. “Many, many times, scientists seem to be superstars. They get a job from another institution that doesn’t know what’s going on-they may think they have succeeded. [attracting] An incredible recruit. “

Lauer said that the first agency submitted a waiver statement to NIH and abandoned PI funding. The new agency submitted a form seeking funding, but NIH’s hands were tied. “We know that there is a very serious problem, that laboratory is some very serious violation site, we can do nothing, it seems that we can do nothing. This put us into a very difficult situation.”

In view of the seemingly loopholes in the last case and the potential conflict of interest brought about by the University Title IX investigation, Treeseder and Guedes both stated that external agencies such as NIH and NAS should begin parallel investigations into complaints of misconduct.

In particular, Guedes pointed out that independent hostile workplace investigations have become the backbone of recent graduate school organizations.

“This will definitely help the process,” Guedes said of the investigation by professional associations. She added that these institutions assume certain responsibilities in elevating the status of scientists, relying on funding, prestige, or both.

“Part of the reason why universities are so difficult to conduct internal investigations is that they are biased, right?” Geddes continued. “The first is to protect the interests of the university. It has professional consequences for the plaintiff or survivor of that university. Various threats or intimidation may occur there, which may make it very difficult for the accuser to really want to move forward. .”

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